How Often Should I Add Copepods to My Tank (Healthy Tank Tips)

How Often Should I Add Copepods to My Tank (Healthy Tank Tips)


A saltwater aquarium is a complex system that involves a lot of different moving parts to ensure that its inhabitants can thrive. This is partly where copepods come in. Copepods act as tiny microalgae eater and ensure that the tiny film that you often see in your aquarium is much less opaque. However, how do you add them to your tank in the first place? And how often should you do so? That’s what we are here to answer today.

How often to add copepods?

If you have voracious copepod eaters like a Mandarin Dragonet (Goby) or a Leopard Wrasse, it would be a good idea to add more pods monthly to ensure the population remains healthy.

The larger your aquarium and refugium and the more live rock you have, the larger you can grow and sustain a healthy and stable copepod population without having to restock it with pods.

You may not need to restock your copepods if you have a large enough refugium and plentiful live rock. Keep an eye on your pods and as long as you can see a good amount of them swimming around you probably don’t need to worry about adding any more copepods.

If you have fish that depend on pods for their diet you may not want to risk their health and just subscribe to an Algae Barn subscription of pods and get them delivered on a regular monthly schedule.

How to store copepods?

It’s best to keep pods in your refrigerator if you’re not putting them directly into your aquarium or sump. The cool temps won’t kill them but it will slow down their metabolism and allow them to live longer in the container.

What are copepods?

Copepods are tiny creatures that can be found throughout the world, which means they are also a large part of the average ecosystem. They have two roles to play from helping to mitigate algae levels and being part of the marine life’s diet. They are great for your corals and removing microalgae from your tank. Copepods are a must-have for anyone serious about maintaining their reef tank.

Algae Barn 5280 Pods
Algae Barn Poseidon's Feast
Algae Barn Ocean Magik

What do copepods eat?

The copepod diet is their entire role in your reef tank because they work as one of the smaller members of the clean-up crew. An often-overlooked role, the copepods help to eat up the algae film that builds up but is too small for the larger clean-up crew members. Copepods have a very thankless job.

However, there might be times where you need to be a little more thoughtful when it comes to feeding your copepods. To avoid starving your copepods, you should make it a practice to add live phytoplankton. You will help to keep your community of pods thriving to eat algae another day.

Why are algae and copepods important?

Copepods have two main functions for aquariums: first, they help to manage the microalgae levels in your tank, and they are a food source for many organisms in your tank. The nutritional value of the copepods can be distributed throughout your tank by being eaten by the next creature in the food chain, like your small corals. These are regular things that need to be maintained within your tank, but by using live copepods, you make managing these factors much more manageable.

When to seed your tank with live copepods

When you seed your tank with pods isn’t terribly specific, but if you would like to get started as early as possible, then you’ll want to aim for after the Nitrogen cycle. Right after your tank has stabilized, proceeding with its cycling, you can begin adding your pods to the reef tank.

If you simply missed this step or, for some reason, your copepods population died off, you can add more.

How big do copepods get

They don’t get seriously big at only 1 to 2 mm, but they will get there in about 10 days. Remember you aren’t trying to have a completely mature pod population because you want to have a diverse population to promote a stable and consistent population in your tank.

How do you keep copepods alive?

Copepods are fairly easy to keep alive since they can thrive in a wide range of tank parameters. However, there can be a time where the microalgae aren’t enough for their diets. Providing regular additional feedings will help to ensure that your live copepods don’t suffer from starvation.

How do you introduce copepods?

Introducing live copepods is actually a very straightforward process. First, make sure that your tank is finished cycling and has a layer of sand or substrate. Your reef aquarium should pretty much look ready to go for fish additions with live rock, substrate, and all the equipment ready to go.

Your local fish store should have copepods available for purchase and should come in a bottle that is teeming with pods. Now you want to make sure that your live copepods will be introduced into your tank and gain a foothold.

What that means is they should have a stable place to land on so the best way to do this is with a tube. Now any tube will do for this as long as it is a material that won’t leach anything into your tank. A spare PVC pipe or acrylic tube will work for this. Carefully place the tube into the substrate of your tank and once it’s stable pour the live copepods down the tube.

The pods will hopefully begin moving down towards the bottom of the tank. The tube helps to get the pods to the substrate without them being carried away in the water flow towards a protein skimmer or other filtration unit. Essentially, it gives them more of a fighting chance. Give them some time to move down into your reef tank. While you are waiting, you can swish some tank water into your now-empty bottle to see if you can’t get a few stuck copepods out of the bottle.

Do I need to feed copepods?

Do you NEED to feed your copepods? Probably not, depending on algae levels in your tank but it will limit the value of your copepods. Copepods are a great food source for other organisms in your tank, like shrimp, seahorses, and some corals. To give those creatures the best food source you can, the copepods need to be fed well. The nutrition of the pods will influence the health of the creature that eat them. If you want to give the other creature in your tank a nutrition-dense food source, make sure to feed your copepods a diverse diet.

Of course, we have already described the importance of phytoplankton in diversifying a copepod’s diet but what does that look like? There are actually different brands and kinds of phytoplankton that you can purchase at stores. There are many common types of phytoplankton but the kind you buy can make a load of difference in terms of quality. For instance, there are dried phytoplankton products but these are often not that great since they aren’t alive and lose some of their nutritional value. It is much better to purchase live phytoplankton to feed your pods and your corals will thank you.

How do copepods reproduce?

The male pods must find a female pod within the tank to introduce their sperm. The sperm is placed in a small pouch on the female’s body and it will burst, releasing the sperm, and entering the reproductive system of the female where the eggs become fertilized. These fertilized eggs are then placed in egg sacs to await hatching. The eggs will hatch the first stage of the copepod life cycle.

How long does it take for copepods to reproduce?

Copepods will breed quickly but it will take anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks before you begin to see the offspring swimming in your tank. Maybe even longer, months perhaps, before they become useful enough to attend other tanks.

Do copepods need light?

Copepods actually don’t need that much light to thrive. The light that you are using for your tank’s other inhabitants is more than enough to meet their needs. However, if you are trying to breed your pods, then you might need to focus a little more effort on the lighting needs. Under normal seeding and caring parameters though, lighting is not that important.

Can you add too many copepods?

Nope! You may have a pod population that is bigger than the needs of the tank but the excess population will die off. The copepods who can find microalgae and phytoplankton will survive while the rest who aren’t able to feed will die off. That is completely okay and normal.

Some die-off is expected since the entire point of live copepods is to help get microalgae under control which means the levels should not be the same as they were when the pods were first added. It’s all just a part of the process.

How do you tell if you have copepods in your tank?

Even if you personally didn’t add live copepods to your reef aquarium, there is a possibility they found a way in any way on live rock, fish, or some other critter-rich tank asset. A quick way to tell if you have live copepods in your aquarium is to temporarily shut off your pump and lights at night. Take a flashlight and shine it into the aquarium and if you have live copepods, you should begin to see them swimming towards the light in no time.

What do copepods need to survive?

Copepods can survive in a large range of water parameters and diets. They will much on what comes their way and won’t complain. If you are keeping a standard tank that falls within their range, you will be more than fine.

How do you farm live copepods?

Those of you who like to do things yourself might opt to farm your own copepods. The first step is to get a separate aquarium, at least a 10-gallon aquarium, or even a bucket. Add some live phytoplankton to the tank to try and get the water looking a little green. That means your microalgae is beginning to boom so the ravenous copepods will have a banquet to sink their teeth into when they arrive in the reef tank. The water’s specific gravity should be around 1.019.

Will a protein skimmer kill pods?

Yeah, it probably will. The protein skimmer is really good at collecting small compounds and organisms just like our tiny pods, so some of them will likely find their way into the skimmer’s collection cup. Don’t worry though, the skimmer won’t obliterate your entire copepod population. Some will survive and they will continue to help your reef aquarium, but if you are trying to have the most pods in your tank as you can, then consider a refugium to help preserve the population against your skimmer. A refugium is a smaller tank that connects to the main aquarium. It can be used for various purposes including helping with the pod population in your aquarium. Where you place your refugium can also have an impact on how well your pods fair against the skimmer’s foam. If you place the refugium after the skimmer in the sump, then more will be able to live for longer periods of time. Finally, when you add copepods to your tank, do so at night and make sure the skimmer is off to start. This will also help them to get a foothold within the tank without being sucked up.

Final thoughts

Pods are an integral part of any healthy reef system but to get a healthy population that will benefit your entire tank’s health and not just the algae levels, you are going to need to put a little bit of work in. Try to feed your copepods a diverse diet and don’t rely solely on what they might find in your aquarium. Pods are potential food for your fish and corals so making them more nutritious is only helping the rest of your system. Don’t worry too much about them disappearing altogether, they are a resilient bunch once they enter a water system.

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